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Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: November is when injuries can take a bite out of contenders

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Wondering if the SEC run of national championships is really over if LSU upsets Alabama ...

There has always been something magical about the month of November in college football.

This is the month when rivalry games, upsets and the season's end congeal. (Sorry, Alabama and LSU, November is when the real and first Game of the Century was played 41 years ago.) This was the month last year when Bama, Boise State, Stanford and Oklahoma State lost, allowing -- guess who? -- Alabama back into the national championship game picture.

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November is both magical and tragic(al). There are reasons hidden in the training room why seasons turn upside down this time of year. Tendons are stretched, ligaments snap and bones break. Yup, this is the time of year when attrition hits as hard as opponents.

In any sport, the human body wears out as the season goes on. In November -- 10 weeks in this season -- this where that wear begins to take a toll. On bodies, on teams, on games.

"That's an excellent question," said Rod Walters, the former head trainer at South Carolina for 17 years under four coaches. "Back when we were average in the SEC, we'd play Georgia tough and Tennessee tough. Then we'd have trouble with Kentucky because we were so beat up. Nagging things become a big deal."

Injuries are November's X factor. LSU heads into the Alabama game having been bothered all season by injuries on the offensive line. Maryland has had four quarterbacks go down. Marcus Lattimore's injury was devastating -- and became uplifting.

Recapping last November: Oklahoma State lost on the road to an Iowa State team that was a 27-point underdog. (To be fair, the Cowboys also had just received the news of the deaths of two women's basketball coaches in a plane crash.)

Then-No. 5 Boise State gave up more than 500 yards to TCU in a heart-breaking home loss. There was no shame in No. 3 Stanford losing at home to No. 6 Oregon 12 days into November. In fact, the Cardinal survived to play in a second consecutive BCS bowl. Still, a win would have kept Stanford alive for a BCS title game berth.

Who is it going to be beginning this month with four undefeated teams at the top?

 Alabama-LSU: With the SEC West and Tiger Stadium grass at stake. Top 25 preview: Alabama at LSU

 Oklahoma State-Kansas State: The defending and future Big 12 champs? Top 25 preview: Oklahoma State at Kansas State

 Pittsburgh-Notre Dame: Blowout? Irish have won five of their games by a touchdown or less. Top 25 preview: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame

 Oregon-USC: Chip Kelly's defense has never been better. Top 25 preview: Oregon at USC

"As a season evolves, injuries mount," Walters said. "What may not normally bother a person, bothers a person a lot. What we don't see as fans is that the preparation is not there. Players can't practice. We as fans don't realize these kids didn't practice."

Auburn has six players listed as questionable this week. (Ah, that explains everything!) In addition to those quarterbacks, Maryland lists seven players questionable having missed the last one to four games.

"He played quarterback in high school, and I think he really feels he's a quarterback at heart," Terps coach Randy Edsall of his new guy, Shawn Petty.

That would be Shawn Petty the linebacker who began to learn Maryland's offense two weeks ago as injuries mounted.

And we've just started the nicks and cuts of November.

The Mad Hatter Factor

Maybe it's just WWL, but Les Miles really hasn't pulled out that trick play at a key moment that makes you go, WTF. (That's What the fudge!, confectionary fans.)

Wacky plays have become part of the LSU coach's identity. The famous toss reverse to Deangelo Peterson in the 2010 Alabama game still resonates. What's it going to be Saturday? Is it going to be Saturday?

Making a case for LSU

 Zach Mettenberger has to have the game of his life.

 Alabama has to put it on the ground a couple of times.

 LSU has to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.

On the other hand ...

 Mettenberger is the 77th-rated passer in the country.

 Alabama is No. 2 in turnover margin.

 LSU is 72nd in red zone offense. Only 16 of its 27 scores inside the 20 have been touchdowns.

Wait, Shaq in the LSU student section?

Apparently.

USC is falling apart

And Lane Kiffin seems to know it, saying this week "We all know we screwed up last week" against Arizona.

Not a good thing headed into a game against Oregon. The Trojans have committed 82 penalties in eight games, 11 more than all of last season. That total is more than five of the last 12 seasons, per the Los Angeles Times. The season seemed to disintegrate last week as USC blew a 15-point lead in Tucson.

Kiffin forced the team to watch a "video montage" of the more egregious penalties (there were 13) in that game. The "upside" -- if it can be called that -- is that no team will have as much effect on the BCS down the stretch than the Trojans.

 They could get to the Rose Bowl by winning out.

 In the process, they could also send unbeaten Notre Dame to the Rose Bowl by beating the Irish in the regular-season finale. (If they are not matched against USC.)

 Kansas State is watching closely because USC could have a direct influence on its chances with games left against Oregon and Notre Dame.

The BCS and you

All that being said, the Irish clearly have the worst remaining schedule strength of all the contenders in terms of BCS chances.

For those of you who believe Notre Dame gets the benefit of the doubt in everything, this isn't it -- Saturday against Pittsburgh, at Boston College and Wake Forest before the season finale at USC.

According to Jerry Palm's BCS standings that's No. 80 Pittsburgh, No. 101 Boston College and No. 69 Wake Forest. Of the three, Wake has the highest average BCS computer ranking at 71.25. By the time the Irish show up in LA on Nov. 24, USC could have four losses.

Oregon -- a distant fourth this week in the BCS (.0264 of a point!) -- starts the heart of its schedule against USC. With the Trojans, Stanford, Oregon State and a possible Pac-12 championship game left, that No. 4 BCS standing figures to change. Kansas State still has two ranked teams left on the schedule (Oklahoma State this week, Texas on Dec. 1).

Bill Snyder flexes

From a coach who rarely takes a public stand on anything, Kansas State's coach this week expanded on his desire that his son take over for him.

Snyder opened up to the New York Times last month about his preference for Sean, currently associate head coach, to replace him when he retires for a second time. Presumably, for good.

"That's kind of a personal thing," Bill Snyder said this week. "Sean is a wonderful, young guy. He's been in the program more than I have. Kansas State is a unique place. Nobody understands it better than he does. Somebody asked me a question and I answered it best I could."

Sean Snyder, 43, also coaches special teams but has never been a coordinator. Bill is right about his son being around longer at K-State. As a player and coach, this marks Sean's 23rd year. Minus his three-year retirement, Bill has been with K-State 21 years.

Leaders are not legends

Indiana -- yes, Indiana -- can capture the Big Ten's diminished Leaders Division by winning out. The Hoosiers (3-5, 1-3 in the league) control their own destiny with games left against Iowa, Wisconsin, at Penn State and at Purdue.

Win them all and the worst that could happen is Indiana owns the tiebreaker over Wisconsin in the division at 5-3. (Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible.)

That scenario isn't likely but that's why they created the Big Ten Network.

Quote of the weak

"There's something going wrong down at my program right now ... I can live with losing. I can't live with not competing."

-- Charles Barkley breaking down Auburn football this week on the Jim Rome Show

Stat package

If Navy beats Florida Atlantic this week, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl would be the first to fill one of the postseason's available 70 bowl slots. ... Big 12 teams have accounted for 127 touchdown drives that have taken five or fewer plays. Sixty-eight scoring drives have taken less than a minute. No surprise, the Large Dozen (really 10) leads FBS in yards (463.4) and points (36.9) per game. ... An SEC team has been ranked first in 13 straight BCS standings. An SEC team has been in the top two of 38 of the last 40 BCS standings. ... Penn State(at Purdue) has outscored opponents 66-0 in the first quarter.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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